Starting to read a new book by Margaret Forster always feels such a treat. She is a very sure-footed writer, and I always feel, no matter what the storyline, that I am in capable hands. Her latest book Over is no exception, and I became absorbed by the characters almost immediately.
Over is the story of a marriage and of a family who are all grieving the death of one of the twin daughters of the marriage. It is narrated by the wife, Louise, a dedicated kindergarten teacher at a primary school, who has separated from her husband before the book begins.
She cannot cope with her husband Don’s obsessive quest to find who is responsible for Miranda’s death in a sailing accident. He is unable to accept that the death might have been what it really was, a very unfortunate accident with tragic consequences, and that there is nobody to blame.
Louise deciding that they must separate, and thus forcing the sale of the family home, and her purchase of a new flat, throws their son and daughter into turmoil. They too find the intensity of their father’s behaviour very difficult, as he seems determined that no-one in the family should be happy, or have any enjoyment ever again, and by implication that if they do they are failing to mourn their sister. When the surviving twin Molly insists on following her original plan to spend a gap year working in Africa, her younger brother Finn decides to leave school and slowly the family pulls apart as each member detaches themselves from what was the core, and deals with the aftermath of Miranda’s death in their own way.
For the first few chapters I completely identified with Louise, and felt that if only someone could persuade her husband that his behaviour was extreme then they could come together again. However, as the story progressed, and Don became almost deranged in his attempts to get at what he would find an acceptable “truth”, as he lost his job, and became one of those sad, lonely folk who scarcely bother to eat, wash or sleep, I began to think that he really needed his wife to help him out of the morass he had fallen into. Her stubborn refusal to connect with him in any way, struck me as very hard, even cruel, given that they had been together for many years and had raised three children. Louise’s way of grieving had been just as extreme as her husband’s; she had isolated herself from him and all the family.
What will the future be for them all, when will they get “over” Miranda’s death and move on in life, that is the final question.
Earlier this week I thought I should look up the basic law on the rights of a bailiff to enter private property to recover goods, given that this government has plans for new legislation allowing them to effect forcible entry to a house or flat. What I discovered absolutely horrified me. Evidence of the widespread abuse of power by bailiffs has been gathered by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, and I feel sure that these abuses would grow even worse under the proposednew powers of entry.
The concept of our homes being private places over which we have the right to control who may enter is no longer true. I learned that there are 266 ways in which people can enter your property without your permission, and in most cases, if you object you can be charged with obstruction and fined or imprisoned. The state grows ever more powerful, and seems to think that it can do as it pleases, entering our homes at will, stretching its tentacles into every corner of our lives.
Why are we so supine as to allow our civil liberties to be leached away like this ?
I'm always on the look out for a new recipe to try out, and this week I found one that I know I'm going to be making regularly. What I was after was a salad to go with some chicken which had baked in a Malay influenced curry sauce. In one of my old Australian Women's Weekly cook books I came across this one and its a winner. Crunchy and cool, with a sweet sour spicy dressing.
NUTTY CUCUMBER SALAD WITH SWEET CHILLI DRESSING
1 medium large cucumber
100g pine nuts, toasted until golden brown (or raw peanuts)
4 spring onions, finely sliced
2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
250ml white wine vinegar
125ml sweet chilli sauce
1½ tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 crushed clove garlic
Halve the cucumber lengthwise, use a teaspoon to scrape out all the seeds.
Cut the cucumber halves diagonally into 1 cm thick slices and put into a serving bowl.
Put the ingredients for the dressing into a small saucepan, and boil, uncovered, for about 10mins until reduced to approximately ¾ cup. Cool.
When ready to serve, add the toasted pine nuts, sliced spring onions and chopped coriander to the cucumber slices, pour the cooled dressing over the salad and gently toss everything together.